Make sure you read Book 1: Obsidian's War
Gel Obsidian's adventures continue in a second book as he goes behind the lines in a dangerous mission to find out more about the alien Gagrim, but there is even more danger at home. His glamorous sex worker girlfriend has a deadly secret and he is drawn to a nightclub singer with a hitman boyfriend and a crime boss admirer who will stop at nothing to possess her.
A biting wind drove flakes of snow across the landing field as Second Lieutenant Gellibrand Bosworth Baines Plymouth Obsidian of the Lighthold Sector Assault Infantry, stepped out of the orbital transfer craft. The newly minted officer, known as Gel to his friends, had just made the trip from the freighter in orbit to the surface of the planet known as Dimarch, and was now taking in the unwelcoming sight of landing field tarmac and collection of huts that made up his new posting from just beside the craft’s loading ramp. He had been warned that the surface would be cold, but even wearing standard-issue polar coat, with the lined hood drawn down and gloves, he shivered.
“Where is everyone?” said the pilot who walked up behind Gel. “Need to get my cargo unloaded.” Gel had been his only passenger.
“There’s a doorway with a light over there,” said Gel, picking up his pack. “I’ll ask for you.”
After a few paces, he drew the heavy cloth that went with the hood across his face and bowed his head against the wind. Outpost-3, where he had last served, had been a miserable, swampy, snake-ridden jungle where a mercenary outfit called The Destroyers had made serious efforts to kill him. No one was trying to kill him on Dimarch, at least not yet, but the jungle on Outpost-3 had been warm. In Dimarch, the wind cut to the bone.
A series of distinct cracks made the Lieutenant raise his head sharply and stop. He was sure that the cracks were shots from the Assault Infantry’s now standard weapon, the AR30, which had considerably more penetrating power than the previous standard AR25, which Gel had found to be useless against the armour of the Destroyers on Outpost-3. This was followed by a short burst of automatic fire - a Storm Cannon. That weapon had also proved ineffectual against Destroyer armour but had been greatly improved by a change in the ammunition used. A few more shots was followed by a distinct Whump! Whump! of what Gel thought sounded like light artillery, then silence.
His comrades were defending the distant perimeter of the base, officially called Forward Base Alpha but dubbed Fort Apache by the Assault Infantry, or Salts as they called themselves, after some ancient earth film about such a fort. There was a Fort Bravo on the planet somewhere, Gel knew, but he had been posted to Fort Apache, and his first observation about his new posting was that there was a long line of transports in front of the one he had just left, all apparently waiting on the tarmac. But there was no visible movement in the open loading dock he could now see in the distance.
The door with the light he had seen from the transporter proved to be the entrance to a non-descript prefabricated hut, with a sign saying ‘Port Admin’. Inside was a harassed female squad leader behind a desk speaking on a comms headset.
“I wish you wouldn’t yell at me, sir,” she said into the phone. She acknowledged Gel’s presence with an upraised hand and a half smile. “You are in the queue to be unloaded. The crews will get to you. Yes, sir. Of course, sir.”
She pulled the headset onto her shoulders and smiled. “Yes, sir?”
Gel had yet to get used to being called ‘sir’ by others. Then he recalled Lieutenant Mihocek who had stood on his new dignity as an officer by refusing to listen to Gel’s advice to switch his helmet comms to protected mode, with the result that he had been targeted by a Destroyer missile. Lieutenant Mihocek’s remains had been returned to Lighthold for cremation.
“I’m Second Lieutenant Obsidian. I have orders to report to the base commander, Colonel Lee.”
“Yes, sir,” said the squad leader, whose name tag read Addison. The ‘Obsidian’ name plainly meant nothing to her. “The colonel’s office is down the corridor to the left.” She pointed to a door on the other side of the room. It’s a few minutes walk, all inside.”
“I’m glad of that,” said Gel. “Is it always so cold here?”
“Been a bit warmer of late, sir,” she said.
“I didn’t want to hear that – but what about the transports stuck out on the landing area. I heard you being given grief about unloading cargos. Is there a hold up?”
“The cargo crews are on a break, sir.”
“A break? But I saw plenty of other transports besides the one I came in lined up, and they’re on a break? This is a military base.”
“There are fifteen waiting to be unloaded, sir.”
“How long have they been on this break?”
“About an hour. Since the shift started, sir.”
“An hour, seriously! And you’ve told your officer.”
“I’ve told Captain Edge, he’s the port commander, sir.”
“I think I’ve met this Captain Edge. He has a female assistant and another gentleman that handles his personal security?”
“That’s right, sir,” said the squad leader, thinking that this officer was different to the others that had passed her desk and smiled. She was stout and round-faced but had a bright smile.
“I’ll mention the matter to the base commander,” said Gel, picking up his pack again. “Maybe that’ll shake something loose.”
“Wish you would, sir. I had thought about doing it myself but chain of command and all that.”
“I understand, squad leader,” said Gel. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Despite her name, Colonel Lee’s face indicated an American plains Indian ancestry. Gel also thought he had heard somewhere that Colonel Lee was a practising Muslim. But outside Earth, particularly in planets on the rim of the Empire like Lighthold, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs and names had become so jumbled than no-one bothered to comment on any particular combination.
“You’re Second Lieutenant Obsidian,” said Colonel Lee, looking at the orders Gel had handed him. “I asked for someone to sort out a mess I have, and General McMahon recommended you.”
“I’m flattered the general should think of me, ma’am,” said Gel.
“You were suggested just a day or so ago while still en-route, so I haven’t had a chance to look at your record,” said the colonel tapping at the tablet in front of her, “so I’ll just look now and… Holy Cow! An Infantry Cross.” He looked up at Gel then down at the tablet again. “What did you get that for? A rescue under fire, it says here, and close combat with a bunch of Destroyers – that mercenary group?”
“Yes, ma’am. I got caught in a shoot out in a bar – the Easy Spice Bar and Grill.”
“I’ve heard of it – that was you?”
“And another, Private Feodor Turgenev who is somewhere in Fort Apache I’m told.”
“Says here your application for a wound medal was unsuccessful,” said the colonel.
“The Easy Spice barman took to me with a shotgun sir, and I got a couple of pellets in my arm. I thought that was worth a wound medal, but it didn’t count. They have strict criteria for awarding it.”
“I guess they do,” said the colonel. “Shotgun, eh? I’ll sure keep your record in mind for a combat job but here’s the thing, at the moment I really need a good deputy port commander.”
“Deputy to Captain Edge, ma’am?”
“You know Captain Edge?”
“I served under him briefly on Outpost-3, ma’am.”
As a mere second lieutenant, Gel could not comment on the ability of a captain, but he could leave out the traditional praise “it was my honour to serve under him”. Colonel Lee could not criticise a subordinate to a newly arrived officer, but she could choose her words carefully.
“Captain Edge needs someone to look after various aspects of the port’s performance,” said Colonel Lee. “There are mysterious hold ups at the port.”
“Such as now because the dock crew have been on a break since the start of their shift.”
Colonel Lee did a double take. “What?”
“The squad leader at the port office told me there are fifteen transports waiting to be unloaded but the operators were on a break.”
“Sort that out, immediately,” she said. “I see you have quite an ancestry. Your grandfather was a dynamo and your father a manager second to none. Get the port working. Any problems come and see me.”
“Yes, ma’am, I can do that.”
“Sorry it’s not a combat posting, but logistics is very important.”
Gel was a little disappointed he would not be put out on the perimeter, but he already had an Infantry Cross and the base was a lot warmer.
“Yes, ma’am– they talked a lot about logistics in officer training.”